Chilsons Were Here Before Payson Itself


The Chilson family has been part of Payson's history longer than there has been a Payson.

Emer and Margaret Chilson came to Payson from the Globe-Miami area. The couple had arrived in Arizona in July 1878 from Downey, Calif.

Emer helped put up the first mill in Miami, according to a history Margaret Chilson dictated to one of her granddaughters in 1933.

Emer did mining and Margaret cooked for one of the mine owners he worked for.

In the early 1880s the Chilsons opened a store in Old Miami and a branch store in Marysville, a mining community that was one of the forerunners of Payson.

The Chilsons moved to the Rim Country to operate the Marysville store. According to the book "Rim Country History" by the Northern Gila County Historical Society, the first day of business was May 1, 1881.


Fred Chilson asked Virginia Adair to marry him before he left for World War II. Virginia said he had teased her so much when they were kids, she didn't think he was serious. The couple married in Feb. 1975.

The family left the area in 1882, Margaret said. "(T)he Indians broke out when old Geronimo was up to so much mischief, so we went to Globe for safety ... While we were gone, our store was broken into and a great deal of goods taken."

The family traded the store for the Golden Wonder Mine and planted roots in Payson.

Emer Chilson died in 1891 and Margaret remained in Payson (marrying a Mr. Platt later and becoming known as Grandma Platt). All of her living children stayed close to her, these were John Collins, Charles Emer (known as Charlie), Margaret M., Napoleon Warren (known as Boss), Irene C. and Jesse Birchett.

Charlie Chilson was the father of Fred Chilson and Helyn Chilson Conway.

Charlie shared a bit about his life in a June 1956 article in the Payson Roundup, written by Gladys Meredith.

At the time, Charlie and his son, Fred, were co-owners of the H Bar Ranch near Rye.

He told Meredith he had been in the cattle business since he was one-year-old and C.C. Calloway gave him a yearling heifer.

Charlie said he was 9 when he went on his first roundup, herding cattle during the day.

He was one of the real ranchers who did some rodeoing when he could. During the 1930s he was one of the area's top calf ropers.

In 1940, according to the Historical Society book, he became a Gila County deputy sheriff. He also served on the Payson School Board.

He and his wife, Avis were married Jan. 1, 1919 in Tempe, where the Chilsons had moved when their children were old enough for high school. Charlie died in 1976.

Fred Chilson was born in March 1923 in Rye. He spent time both on the family ranch and in Payson.

It was in Payson that Virginia Adair first met Fred. He was four years older than her and he and his friends teased her and her friends mercilessly while they were growing up.

Virginia was born in Pine in Oct. 1927. She started school there with children from the families of Randall, Patterson, Gould, Heath, Miller, Hunt and others. She also lived in Strawberry for a time.

The favorite activity of Virginia and her friends was to fish the creeks and cook their catch over open fires.

Virginia's father was Guy R. Adair and he worked the flume for the Childs and Irving Power Plants and helped build Fossil Creek Road.

Another of Guy Adair's jobs was helping with a timber contract for the mines in Jerome. The timber cut was in a remote part of the Bradshaw Mountains, Virginia said. When he didn't come in from cutting one day, a group went out looking for him. A tree had fallen the wrong way and dragged her father into a ravine. The accident cost him his leg.

She remembers him wearing a peg leg when she was a little girl and in the late 1930s, he started using an artificial leg.


Payson's Main Street was wide enough in the early days to accommodate a herd of cattle and the cowboys driving it.

"He did everything, though," she said.

From the Pine and Strawberry area, Adair's family moved to New Mexico where they had family. They came back to the Rim Country in 1936 and moved to Payson, their home was next door to Fred's family.

"Fred taught me to ride a horse and milk a cow," she said. But because he had always teased her so much, she didn't think he was serious when he proposed right before leaving for World War II.

The two went their separate ways, meeting and marrying others, having families. Then in 1974, Fred asked a mutual friend for Virginia's telephone number. He called and left a message with one of her daughters, telling her to call him collect.

She did and he invited her to come back to Arizona for a visit, he would buy the plane ticket. She gave it some thought and made the trip down in January. She met his children and was invited to come back.

Before Virginia could make a return trip, Fred came to see her and met her children.

Fred and Virginia were married in Feb. 1975.

"Marrying Fred was the greatest thing I ever did. My kids loved him and he taught them all so much," Virginia said. She said when they married it felt as if the whole world had lifted off her shoulders.

"I think I had loved him all my life, but if we'd married when we were young, I don't think I would have appreciated him as much as I did once we were together."

Fred's children were John and Mary, Virginia's had two sons, Jimmy and Mark and two daughters, Jacki and Frankie.

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